Those who are new to rats may be surprised by how much “stuff” they need. While breeders don’t all agree on what is necessary for your rats “set-up” (the cage, furnishings, substrate, etc), all of us want enriched environments with plenty of opportunity for the rats to burrow, nest-build, exercise, climb, and play.
I have a comprehensive list of stuff I would like owners of future Blue Apple rats to have before I home out to them. But if you want a general place to find out more about rat care, try some of these resources:
The National Fancy Rat Society forum. You can join the NFRS and access every article and forum entry available to breeders. It is worth the membership to do so when, in the middle of the night, your rat is doing something you’re worried about and you want some advice or information in a hurry!
Rat Care UK, The admin/moderators are excellent on that forum, but not everyone on that forum is reliable so do pick and choose.
Isamu Rat Care on Youtube. I love this channel. While, I set up the fabulous bioactive cages like Jemma has, I do use a lot of her tips on creating the most natural and enriched cages I can for my rats. You will learn about what rats really need, how to evaluate different substrates, cages, health issues, and (important!) how to introduce rats to one another.
Oh, and don’t forget one of my favourite people in the rat world! Alison at RATWISE has made it her mission to help educate owners (and breeders, too!) on the best ways to look after and provide for our beautiful pet rats.
Some cages have wire shelves. While, these do not cause bumblefoot, they are still kind of horrible. And if a rat is not used to them, it’s possible for them to injure a foot or leg. They can be covered lino, but are best removed altogether. If the cage has a wire grid over the floor, remove it as it’s not helpful and will hinder natural behaviours. It will also stink if the bars aren’t coated, and pretty much stink if they are! You want a deep base of substrate (Snowflake Supreme, Bedmax, Littlemax, Aubiose, Green Mile, Finacard or combination) for your rats to be able to dig in. You can find many different substrates at Ratrations.co.uk. You can buy them at equestrian shops, too, but usually in large quantities that you’d have to store safely so they don’t mould or get infested with rodents outside!
Self-grooming is an innate behaviour displayed by all rats. There’s a great article about it on Isamu Stud’s website if you want to read more about it.
My video here shows Hummingbird’s baby doe’s earliest attempt to self-groom. We think these are all chocolate quicksilver babies, some of which will either carrying red-eyed-dilute or, perhaps, be discovered to be platinum rats.
Platinum rats are very rare right now in the United Kingdom, so we hope some of these paler ones turn out to be platinum. Meanwhile, we enjoy the cuteness of these little munchkins!
As you know, my quicksilver doe Hummingbird had six babies on October 5th. You can see the proud dad and mum here. All six are well and healthy, and I thought you might like to have a little peek at them!
Below is a video of the little darlings this morning. It looks like Hummingbird is doing a stellar job. By the way, she didn’t know I was borrowing her babies. She was too busy scarfing down a yummy breakfast in her regular cage and saying hello to her friends.
On the 5th of October, Blue Apple Hummingbird gave birth to six healthy babies, two does and four bucks!
As you know, Hummingbird is a chocolate quicksilver doe. That means she has two copies of American mink and 2 copies of British blue, as well (unfortunately!) 2 copies of chocolate. Eventually, I’ll breed the chocolate part out as it makes her just a bit too light for show standard, but as we’re a bit thin on the ground with quicksilvers here in Britain, I just bred what I had.
These babies were fathered by Blue Apple Alf-Herman, a buck who we’re not entirely sure about…that is, he may be a chocolate quicksilver agouti (so, just like Hummingbird but with a single copy of the agouti gene, which is a dominant gene) carrying a single copy of red-eyed dilute (RED). Or he may be a chocolate platinum agouti. Platinum rats have bright red eyes, as does our boy Alf-Herman.
In American mink-based rats, a single copy of RED can give the appearance of a ruby eye, though not usually quite as red eyes as Alf-Herman has. If you look at the 3 does above, you can see 3 eye colours. On the left, Hummingbird has dark ruby eyes (they are almost black now), while Little Ruth in the middle has mid-ruby eyes. Sister Freya on the right has bright red eyes (like Alf-Herman).
The question is what is changing these eye colours? Do we have the platinum gene involved or is it simply that with so many modifiers that lighten the pigment of fur, we also are seeing a lighter eye? Certainly, RED in combination with the other genes, could be responsible for a bright red eye. But we hope that the red is due to the genetics that contribute to the platinum rat, a variety that is desperate in short supply here in Britain!
It’s day 21 for Hummingbird, and it’s time to prepare for her birth cage. Most rats have their litters after 22.5 days of gestation. For now, I’m not setting up the web camera, but that will be tomorrow’s work!
You can really see how pregnant Hummingbird is now, which is just as well as she’s due in only a few days.
Rats often don’t show their pregnancies until late, and that’s in part because the foetuses don’t really grow much at all until those final days. However, now they will all be growing very quickly. I will be increasing Hummingbird’s nutrition accordingly, but I don’t want her to have too much extra fat because that will make her labour more difficult.
Like any good breeder, I want to make sure my rats go to people who love rats, are willing to learn everything they can to keep them healthy and happy, and can provide their housing, food, and veterinary needs for the whole of their relatively short lives.
There are so many rats that end up purchased by well-meaning people only to be passed on when the landlord discovers with horror that there are pet rats in the place (heaven forfend!) or a child loses interest, or the owner gets bored. I’ve had many “rescue rats” due to such circumstances and I am determined that the rats I breed do not end up being rehomed.
Normally I say (in fact, I insist) that if you adopt rats from me you agree that, should you be unable to look after them in the future, you will return them to me. Since Covid19, however, I’m more careful about taking back rats I’ve homed out. I’ll still have them, of course!
Generally, don’t get rats unless you are 100% sure you can keep them. This means your landlord or housemates aren’t against the idea or allergic, that you can afford them, that you agree to look after them for their entire lives. If for some reason you cannot, ring and we’ll see what can be arranged, however. I usually have a lot of people who want rats and might be able to find a suitable home.
If you don’t have enough money for veterinary bills, I suggest you put a minimum of £100 away for every rat you plan to keep and, only then, adopt rats. Anyone’s rats — not just mine. My experience with rats is that they will get at least one upper respiratory infection, costing close to 50 pounds for the vet visit and medication, and one “put to sleep” visit, costing about the same later in their lives.
There can be many other costs associated with rats. You may find you need to spay or have a tumour removed from your rat. Costs vary but my vet will charge about £85 for a spay. Not every rat will need tumour removal or spaying, but it’s good to know you have the funds available if this should turn out to be the case.
Your rats’ quality of life is very important. They are such smart, active, curious creatures that they really need to come out daily for about an hour to “free-range” either in a secure room or a large enclosure (I can help you with ideas on this). I have a play pen as well as time out on my sofa while I watch movies. They climb on me, go through tunnels, investigate the book shelf, and generally have a nice time. Because I have both males and females, I have to make sure that each group comes out. It’s a commitment!
Of course, the rats won’t die if they don’t come out of their cage daily…so if you do miss a day here or there, don’t worry. I’m just trying to give you an idea of what you’re getting yourself into by getting rats!
So…what happens when you go away for holiday? You can’t just leave them with nobody to attend to them. You’ll need to find a family member or pet service that will check on them daily. Of course, if it is only overnight, you can add an extra water bottle and a big bowl of food and you’ll probably be fine, but don’t turn off the heat! Rats can adjust to colder temperatures but not all at once! I keep mine somewhere between 16-21…the summers can be hard as they don’t like it too hot. It’s difficult to keep temperatures moderate during a very hot summer or cold winter and this is why I insist that any baby rats of mine be kept in your house and not in a shed or garage. I can help you with ideas for keeping your rats warm enough, for cooling them down, for making sure they thrive, but only if they are in a house or flat, not outdoors.
Rats need company. I’ve found very few exceptions to the rule that all rats must be kept in a minimum of pairs. This is why I prefer to home rats in trios, not in pairs. It is so easy to lose a rat at, say, 20 months old and have their sister or brother go on to live six additional months or more. If you have a very elderly rat that really is on its last legs you may choose to keep him or her alone for a couple of weeks prior to saying goodbye to that rat. In fact, that may be the kindest thing if the rat is very infirm. However, for the most part, you really need to keep rats with other rats. One great reason to join the the National Fancy Rat Society is so that you can post on their forum “WANTED” section if you find yourself in this position (the forum is also a great place to get health and breeding information).
People will be more than willing to help you either by supplying you with a couple of baby rats or even finding a rat of approximately the same age with which you can pair your singleton rat. That is, if they can.
Do you have the room for a rat cage? It seems a silly question but these cages are BIG. In fact, if you want to make your life a lot easier, get a couple of cages. One would be smallish, the sort of thing you can keep three baby rats in for a week or so and then use as a “hospital” or travel cage in the future. I have a Savic Ruffy 2 cage that I’d never keep rats in permanently because it is way too small even for 2 rats. However, I find it fits nicely into my car when I take my rats away with me overnight (which, yes, I do!) or when I take a few to shows. It has been an old rats’ cage for my extremely elderly rats who can no longer climb and a honeymoon suite for a pair of rats I hope to mate. I love the cage, though it is not perfect (the door is on the top so you have to swoop in eagle-style to pick up a rat!). At home, my rats are in a Savic Suite Royale, a giant cage with two levels. However, a trio of rats all be quite happy in something like a Furplast Freddy 2 or a Freddy 2 Max. You can use a Mamble 100 if you can find it, half the price and much bigger than it looks in the photos. Also, very good is the Coco Large found at Little Pet Warehouse. There are a lot of other cages but be careful the bars aren’t too far apart and that the access is good so it’s easy for you to clean!
It isn’t just the size of the cage that matters (though it does) but how it is furnished. You cage should be stuffed with tubes, hammocks, perches, ledges, digging boxes, ropes, cargo nets, and the like.
My point is this: the cage is BIG. You have to have room. And you may need more than one. The furnishings are extensive, you’ll need a ton of them, and yes you need a 14″ or larger wheel (at least, if you want rats from me). I don’t home rats to people unless they provide a 14″ or larger wheel.
Now, for the health-related stuff. First, are you allergic to rats? If you think you might be, please go along to a rat show run by the NFRS or another organisation, walk around and play with the rats (people will be happy to share their rats with you if you explain why you want to hold them) BEFORE collecting a pair of babies and then breaking out in a skin rash! You may be allergic to their bedding, not the rat, which is easily managed by switching bedding.
Next, are you pregnant or are you immunocompromised? Why do I ask? Because many pet rats (or at least some pet rats) may carry hantavirus, which is a virus that is normally not serious but CAN be serious for some people, including those who are immunocompromised. Now, if you have pet rats and later become pregnant, you can ask your doctor about the situation. Your doctor may know little about it, however. Hopefully, it won’t matter too much as you have already been exposed to your rats and so if they carry the virus you already have antibodies. But I wouldn’t go around playing with tons of additional other rats during this time. Also, keep your rats indoors so they don’t come into contact with wild rats that may carry leptospirosis.
If you have children, are they able to cope with a rat bite, should one occur? My rats don’t bite me but if I were try to break up a fight (don’t do that!) I’d have a chance of being bitten and these bites can be serious. This is why I don’t break up rat fights with my hands — ever! Anyway, most rat arguments result in no injury to either rat despite the squeaking. Instead, on those rare occasions when I’ve had to break up rats, I try to distract them, then swoop in with a towel.
All rat bites carry a chance of rat bite fever. And anyway, they hurt. For a small child a rat bite to the finger could be very deep and do lots of damage. The same is true for hamster bites, of course, but I’m just making the point. I like small does for small children for this reason. Smaller jaws, less testosterone. Having said that, I’m always amazed at how cuddly and gentle male rats are. It’s just that if they do bite, they will make a bigger impression.
Have I scared you off? I hope not! Like many breeders, I am doing everything I can to breed really sweet, easy rats. But they aren’t the cheapest pet (apparently the hamster is our cheapest pet!) and they do need daily attention, a big cage, funds for veterinary care, and a little respect by children and adults alike.
You can find loads of information through the National Fancy Rat Society. I suggest you join it and read their forum. A great source of the latest knowledge.
I’ve been hearing of many people who are having difficulty socialising their pet rats. By “socialising” I mean that they want their rats to feel more comfortable being handled, spending time out of their cage, and engaging with different members of the family. Not only do they want their rats to feel more comfortable with all this but to actively seek out human company and enjoy “free-ranging” outside their cage.
The degree to which a rat enjoys people or world outside their cage varies enormously from rat to rat. I’ve had the occasional rat that wants to spend all his time with me. A rat I bought at Harrods in London (back when Harrods had a pet store) would spend 10 minutes wandering around the room that housed his cage and then insist that he come sit on my lap. I adored this rat, a total “lap rat” that really was the best buck I’ve ever had in terms of giving kisses and demanding love. However, right now I have a doe named Essie who is almost as cuddly. She enjoys romping around the sofa with her friends, hiding under pillows and darting through tunnels a bit more than my Harrod’s rat, but she always ends up on my lap licking my hands and generally refusing to budge.
However, I’ve had a lot of skittish rats in my day. This is because I used to take in rescues exclusively. When I lived in London, a pet shop near me used to regularly receive small hamster cages stuffed with rats outside its door. I had a few of those. More recently, I’ve had 6 different does over the years from a rescue about an hour from my house. I had a couple of boys that weren’t getting any time outside their cage now that their owner was working a lot of hours. And I’ve had rats that were rehomes for various reasons.
A lot of temperament is due to genetics. Breeders who select for a specific temperament are generally able to achieve it over time, just like any trait. However, handling is critical so a lot of breeders not only handle their babies, but make sure that their adults are regularly handled, too, to ensure that they are comfortable in human company. With patience, most rats become quite friendly.
This is Blue Apple Orange Julius. I really love this rat and he’s exactly what I breed for (but don’t always get). He’s a 7-month old Russian topaz buck turning velvet. Really nice guy who is sweet to people as well as his cage mates. I will be breeding him but am not sure when. I may breed Eloise to Kiwi Kronk and then the does from that litter to Julius when they reach 6+ months. Kronk isn’t velvet but he also isn’t topaz so the litter would have a wider selection of colours from which I could choose (I prefer to breed from does who are not carrying two copies of Red-eyed dilute). Velvet is a tricky thing to get and keep. I don’t understand it yet.